A Summary of Chapter 8 of Paul: In Fresh Perspective by N.T. Wright

1. Introduction

Chapter 8 is entitled “Jesus, Paul and the Task of the Church”.

2. Jesus and Paul

Some scholars have said there is a mismatch between the teaching of Jesus and Paul.  N.T. Wright believes these scholars are working under the false assumption that Jesus and Paul had the same purpose.

I have argued elsewhere that Jesus believed himself to be bringing to its great climax, its great denouement, the long story of YHWH and Israel, which was the focal point of the long story of the creator and the world.  I have proposed that he believed himself to embodying both the vocation of faithful Israel and the return of YHWH to Zion, drawing on to himself not only the destiny of God’s true Servant but, if we can put it like this, the destiny of God himself.  (p. 156)

Paul, too, believed himself to have a special, unique role within the overall purposes of Israel’s God, the world’s creator; and that role was precisely not to bring Israel’s history to its climax — that had been done in the death and resurrection of the Messiah — but rather to perform the next unique task within an implicit apocalyptic timetable, namely to call the nations, urgently, to loyal submission to the one who had now been enthroned as Lord of the world.  Paul believed that it was his task to call into being, by proclaiming Jesus as Lord, the worldwide community in which ethnic divisions would be abolished and a new family created as a sign to the watching world that Jesus was its rightful Lord and that new creation had been launched and would one day come to full flower.  (p. 157)

Now that we know the purpose of Jesus and Paul we can address the questions certain scholars bring up.  First, why does Jesus frequently speak of the kingdom of God while Paul says very little about it?  Jesus spoke to the Jewish world where the term “kingdom of God” was widely known.  However, Jesus radically redefined the term through his preaching and miracles.  On the other hand, Paul spoke to a largely Gentile world which was not familiar with the term “kingdom of God.”  Instead he retold the message of the kingdom of God in terms of Jesus being the Lord of the world, a language more familiar to Gentile Roman subjects.

Second, why is justification by faith so important for Paul but not Jesus?  Recall that Paul’s language of justification by faith is not about conversion but about telling who is a member of God’s people in the Gentile world.  Jesus never faced the issue of how to tell whether a Gentile was a member of God’s people.  However, we do see him redefining God’s people in some passages (Mark 3:31-35; Luke 15:1-2).

Third, why doesn’t Paul refer to Jesus’ words more frequently when they were relevant to his work?  N.T. Wright notes that Paul was telling his readers how to live in the new age from first principles.  He could have cited a saying from Jesus to deal with a specific issue, but he argues from first principles so that his readers will know what to do not only in the situation addressed by a quotation from Jesus but in all situations.

3. The Work of an Apostle

What task did Paul believe he was called to do?

a. Servant, apostle, set apart

Romans opens with the phrase:  “Paul, a servant, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God”.  Paul believed he was called to implement a servant-ministry that drew on some aspects of the Servant Songs in Isaiah 40-55.  His ministry was a way of making Israel a light to the nations.  His sufferings mirrored the suffering of the Servant. Paul is called to be an apostle in the sense that he is a royal emissary.  His apostolic authority is rooted in who sent him, not in himself.  Paul was set apart in the sense that it was his life’s vocation to preach the gospel.

b. Redefinitions in practice

Paul confronted the pagan world with the one and only living God.  This God was demonstrated through powerful deeds.  These were signs that this God had power the other gods did not possess. In redefining the people of God, Paul planted churches where he envisioned a single community coming together for worship and prayer and most of all to help one another out in a loving manner.

4. Conclusion: Paul and the Task of the Church

What are the implications of this picture of Paul in the church today?  First, Wright says, we must reconstruct the self as rooted in the love God has revealed in the Messiah.  Second, the basic Christian mode of knowing must be through love.  “In love, the person who is loving is simultaneously affirming the Otherness of that which is loved and their own deep involvement with that Other” (p. 173).  Third, our grand story must not be about power but about love.


4 thoughts on “A Summary of Chapter 8 of Paul: In Fresh Perspective by N.T. Wright

  1. ‘He could have cited a saying from Jesus to deal with a specific issue….’

    He could have , if he thought Jesus was his Lord and Saviour and God made flesh.

    But Paul did not know of any sayings of Jesus.

    Even when speaking to Christians who scoffed at the idea of God raising a corpse, Paul never says what a resurrected body is like by quoting Jesus saying that he had flesh and bone.

    And while Jesus may have ‘proved’ the resurrection in Matthew 24, Paul knew that Christians would not accept the resurrection just because the person they worshipped had said so.

    So Paul never quotes Jesus saying there had been a resurrection.

    He knew that Christians don’t believe in a general resurrection just because Jesus said there would be one.

  2. Paul did think Jesus had appeared in the flesh (Romans 1:3; 5:15-19; 8:3; 9:5; 1 Corinthians 15:21; Galatians 1:19; 4:4; Philippians 2:7) and he did quote Jesus on occasion (1 Corinthians 7:10-11; 11:23-25). It is true that Paul does not quote a saying from Jesus when arguing for the resurrection, rather he bases his argument on the resurrection act itself.

  3. But Wright says Paul would prefer not to quote Jesus.

    Why doesn’t Paul cite one single word from Jesus when his Lord and Saviour allegedly proclaimed the resurrection?

    Why does Paul not use one single bit of any alleged eyewitness testimony when trying to describe what a resurrected body was like?

    Why did people convert to Christianity and then scoff at the idea of God choosing to raise a corpse, although they clearly accepted that God made Adam out of dead matter?

    The last Adam became a life-giving ‘pneuma’ says Paul, while Jesus denied being a pneuma….

    All these questions are answered at my resurrection debate blog.

    Wright can’t answer them. I asked him some questions and he was ‘too busy’ to defend his spin…

  4. I can’t speak for N.T. Wright and I’m not surprised that he’s busy. As you may know, his views on the resurrection are given in his book The Resurrection of the Son of God. I will let you decide whether it addresses your questions or not. Time-permitting, I’ll read your resurrection debate with John Twisleton.

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